Online comprehension across different semantic categories in preschool children with autism spectrum disorder

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Abstract

Background Word comprehension across semantic categories is a key area of language development. Using online automated eye-tracking technology to reduce response demands during a word comprehension test may be advantageous in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Objectives To measure online accuracy of word recognition across eleven semantic categories in preschool children with ASD and in typically developing (TD) children matched for gender and developmental age. Methods Using eye-tracker methodology we measured the relative number of fixations on a target image as compared to a foil of the same category shown simultaneously on screen. This online accuracy measure was considered a measure of word understanding. We tested the relationship between online accuracy and offline word recognition and the effects of clinical variables on online accuracy. Twenty-four children with ASD and 21 TD control children underwent the eye-tracking task. Results On average, children with ASD were significantly less accurate at fixating on the target image than the TD children. After multiple comparison correction, no significant differences were found across the eleven semantic categories of the experiment between preschool children with ASD and younger TD children matched for developmental age. The ASD group showed higher intragroup variability consistent with greater variation in vocabulary growth rates. Direct effects of non-verbal cognitive levels, vocabulary levels and gesture productions on online word recognition in both groups support a dimensional view of language abilities in ASD. Conclusions Online measures of word comprehension across different semantic categories show higher interindividual variability in children with ASD and may be useful for objectively monitor gains on targeted language interventions.

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Barone, R., Spampinato, C., Pino, C., Palermo, F., Scuderi, A., Zavattieri, A., … Rizzo, R. (2019). Online comprehension across different semantic categories in preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. PLoS ONE, 14(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211802

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